REVIEW: The New Mutants (2020)

New Mutants Still Image
‘The New Mutants,’ Still Image — Photo: Claire Folger / 20th Century Studios.

Directed by Josh Boone — Screenplay by Josh Boone & Knate Lee.

For a while there, it seemed like Josh Boone’s The New Mutants would never see the light of day. They wrapped principal photography in September 2017 and originally planned for an April 2018 theatrical release, but, right when Disney executives were working overtime to acquire Fox, the film was delayed over and over again. The film which had been developed by 20th Century Fox was ultimately released by Disney’s 20th Century Studios in the middle of a global pandemic. It felt like the film was quietly being swept under the rug, which may not be far from the truth as the film was the final film from the Fox-era of X-Men. Originally, I was very interested in the film after having seen the early marketing material, which made The New Mutants seem like a true horror film. Now that I have finally seen the film, I can say that the early trailers were more memorable than the film, which is messy and poorly paced. But I will say that it definitely isn’t the complete and utter trainwreck that the constant release delays may have led you to believe. It’s not good, but it certainly isn’t the worst Fox-developed X-Men film.

Josh Boone’s The New Mutants follows Danielle Moonstar (played by Blu Hunt), a Native American mutant, who, after having been knocked unconscious during a traumatic event, wakes up in a mysterious hospital run by Dr. Cecilia Reyes (played by Alice Braga). They are two of only six people at the facility, and the remaining four people are all young mutants who, like Danielle, have all experienced traumatic events in the past. At the facility, they are meant to learn to control their powers, and the young mutants are all under the assumption that they are being prepared to become X-Men. But something isn’t right at the hospital, which is surrounded by a force field that the mutants are unable to pass through, and soon they all start to experience waking nightmares that force them to live through their most traumatic experiences.

It took a long time for the final product to be released, and, ultimately, The New Mutants feels like a mixture of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and that one scene from X-Men: First Class where the young mutants try to one-up each other while Magneto and Professor Xavier are away from the government facility. Of course, since this is an X-Men film, I should also mention that it did at times remind me of the series Legion, which is also based on X-Men comics, but The New Mutants was never as interesting or as good as that Noah Hawley FX series.

As you may have suspected due to the numerous release delays, I don’t think this is a good film. It feels messy and unfinished, but, perhaps most frustratingly, I do think this could’ve worked. The vast majority of the cast consists of somewhat established young acting stars, and I love the idea of making a horror film in the X-Men universe. It even makes a lot of sense for such a film to revolve around scared young mutants just starting to discover their powers. However, even though there are glimpses here and there that reveal what this film could’ve been, we are left with an unpolished and incomplete final product that I don’t have a lot of good things to say about, other than the idea that it is sometimes easy to see what Boone and the writers were going for.

While they are probably my favorite scenes in the film, some of the true horror scenes, which are few and far between, don’t quite live up to their potential. There isn’t much more to them than what was already revealed in marketing material, which feels like a missed opportunity. But, again, select horror scenes are very creepy and would’ve worked even better if the film had embraced that tone more.

In general, I think there are tonal and pacing problems with the film, and it definitely feels like several pivotal moments were left on the cutting room floor. Or perhaps, alternatively, that Boone and his crew never got to finish the reshoots. It isn’t just that plenty of scenes don’t get to breathe. In actuality, it feels like scenes are cut short and that we are robbed of several scenes’ natural endpoint, as well as bonding moments between the central characters whose relationships change very quickly.

Furthermore, the visual effects sometimes look unfinished. When the film — specifically in the opening scene and the ending fight sequence — relies a great deal on the questionable visual effects, the film has trouble finding its footing. It also doesn’t help that the characters are thinly written and the fact that the dialogue is often offensive and sometimes cliche-ridden. Although there are several talented young actors and actresses in this film (such as Maisie Williams and Anya Taylor-Joy), I don’t have a lot of good things to say about their performances, in large part due to the reliance on really untrained or unconvincing, and thus questionable, dialects and accents.

Josh Boone’s The New Mutants is a very frustrating film. But it isn’t because of all of the release delays. I think this film is really frustrating because it feels like a huge missed opportunity. You can definitely see glimpses of greatness here, but the film just ended up feeling like a television pilot. For whatever reason, the final product feels cut to pieces, incomplete, and messy. It is a rough and disappointing end to Fox’s X-Men film universe.

4 out of 10

– Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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